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Black-Eyed Peas, Forward-Moving Pigs and Carp Coins are Part of New Year Traditions

Written By Scott Joseph On December 27, 2013

What are you eating New Year’s Eve? Or New Year’s Day?

Do you have a traditional food item that you consume to ensure the following twelve months will be happy ones? Something that if you didn’t eat it would surely mean doom?

It’s sounds silly when you think of it, but even for otherwise rational people, the superstitions of tradition can be powerful. And I doubt that anyone who experiences a financial setback or personal tragedy in July or August ever thinks back to the first of the year and think, “If only I hadn’t skipped the beans!”

It’s probably more of a consoling thing than superstition. We like having that tradition, that connection to past, to home. More than many other food items that are lumped into the category, the foods we eat as part of annual traditions really are comfort foods.

But the dishes associated with the New Year have reason rooted in them.

Hoppin’ John, of course, is the primary traditional New Year dish in the south. As with many other items, its purpose has to do with hopes for prosperity. It is believed that the black-eyed peas represent coins, for wealth. Although it’s associated with the south, Hoppin’ John has origins that are centuries old. Eating black-eyed peas for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is an ancient tradition. It became a southern one after Sephardic Jews immigrated to Georgia in the 1700s. 

Hoppin’ John adds greens, which are also considered an omen for prosperity — green is the color of money, after all. Many southerners also add pork, which it is safe to say the Jews never did.

There are two reasons for adding pork. One is for the flavor, of course. The other is for another symbolic wish for the New Year. Pigs, you see, forage in a forward motion. 

I’m not making this up, though I’ll grant you someone probably did at some point, or at least came up with the forward forage as a justification for adding more pork. 

In case the allusion to prosperity isn’t clear enough, some southerners add a dime to the Hoppin’ John pot. Supposedly the person who finds it will have extra good luck — and perhaps a trip to the emergency room.

Fish is a symbol of prosperity, too. How can that be? you ask. The scales, of course. They resemble coins. In Germany, some men take some carp scales after consuming the fish and put the scales into their wallets. That’s to assure that they will not run out of  money all year long. It also assures a stinky wallet.

What about you? What is your must-have dish to welcome the New Year? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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